Green Buildings are Gaining Momentum with Wireless Sensor Networking

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Energy directives, rising operating costs and a growing green movement are driving adoption of Wireless Sensor Networking (WSN) for building automation, according to a recently published report by ON World. Technology advances such as ZigBee PRO, IP sensor networking, Low Power WiFi, and energy harvesting provide affordable smart building solutions for a growing market that will reach $4 billion in 2013.

Now that end users are more educated on the benefits, their concerns are more about data reliability, customization, and seamless IT integration.

Energy directives, rising operating costs and a growing green movement are driving adoption of Wireless Sensor Networking (WSN) for building automation, according to a recently published report by ON World. Today, tens of thousands of ZigBee devices are being installed in the CityCenter development, wireless sub-metering systems are being deployed by grocery chains across Europe, and Zero Carbon initiatives such as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi are using WSN to make buildings greener and "smarter."

"Despite tight budgets, building operators are seeking the high return on investment provided by Wireless Sensor Networking with its enormous installation savings versus wired sensors," says Mareca Hatler ON World's research director. "Now that end users are more educated on the benefits, their concerns are more about data reliability, customization, and seamless IT integration."

ON World's survey with 76 facility managers and IT directors found that 21% are current wireless sensor users and 32% are planning to implement WSN solutions within 18 months.

Examples of the WSN markets that are currently gaining traction include the following:

  • Hospitality: Large scale deployments such as CityCenter with 90,000 ZigBee devices to be installed by the end of the year.
  • Retail: With the involvement of multi-billion dollar grocery chains such as Kroger, WSN systems are posed to accelerate in the retail sector.
  • Healthcare: Hundreds of hospitals worldwide are deploying WSN systems for safe storage monitoring of vaccines, blood, and other value medical assets.
  • Data centers: In response to billions of research investment and energy management initiatives by IT giants such as Cisco and IBM, Arch Rock, Federspiel, Sentilla, and SynapSense currently offer end-to-end wireless mesh systems for data center monitoring.
  • Battery-less devices: EnOcean enabled battery-less wireless sensors are used in lighting and energy management systems in 100,000 residential and commercial buildings worldwide.
  • Large open spaces: ZigBee mesh infrastructures for lighting control by Adura, Kanepi and TwistHDM-- with up to 10,000 devices per network-- are being deployed in large open spaces in manufacturing, warehousing, and parking garages, saving customers tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Initiatives by governments, global alliances, and large public companies such as Cisco, IBM, Johnson Controls, and Siemens are driving innovation and standardization in mesh networking, IP sensing, WiFi Sensors, and energy harvesting. The most impactful technologies for wireless building automation systems today include the following:

ZigBee has the largest market share for building WSN, backed by the top four building automation vendors, end users such as Kroger, and hundreds of manufacturers, systems integrators, and startups. While there are few certified ZigBee products today, the largest current building WSN deployments such as CityCenter consist of ZigBee devices by multiple vendors including Control4, Axxess, Bartech, and SAFLOK. Vendors are currently migrating to the latest ZigBee PRO feature set and the ZigBee Building Automation profile is expected to be published in early 2010.

Energy Harvesting
As much as 15 million wireless sensor nodes will be installed within the next five years that will need to be either battery powered or powered by ambient energy. While operating lifetimes of 10+ years is possible with batteries using the latest radios and protocols, the prospect of disposing of millions of batteries conflicts with WSN's value proposition as a "green" technology. ON World's survey found that battery lifetime continues to be one of the major concerns about wireless sensor networking. Furthermore, the labor costs and setup problems associated with changing batteries gives wireless sensors powered with energy harvesting an unfair advantage.    

Demand for greener solutions has driven adoption of battery-less wireless sensors by EnOcean that has spurred the formation of the EnOcean Alliance with 125 members and 350 EnOcean products. The ZigBee Alliance has also launched an energy harvesting initiative to reduce the power consumption of certain devices that will be capable of supporting energy harvesting.

IP Sensor Networking
IT convergence and rapidly developing standards and industry alliances are accelerating the development of IP sensor networking for buildings. Supporting sensor networking across any physical medium, wired or wireless, IP sensor networking encourages innovation by opening up building WSN solutions to a large pool of Internet, IP and IT focused developers. It also brings battery powered 15.4/mesh technologies by Atmel, Dust, and Synapse into the mainstream with increased installation flexibility and robust reliability. Arch Rock has recently achieved the highest IPv6 certification level for its IP sensor networking platform.

WiFi Sensors
The emergence of Low Power WiFi chipsets by GainSpan and others has made WiFi a potentially disruptive technology for building WSN with its intrinsic support for IP. By leveraging the WiFi infrastructure that is installed in tens of millions of buildings, WiFi sensors reduce installation costs, simplify development, and provide easy integration with data networks. ON World's software simulations found that low power WiFi chipsets provide multi-year lifetimes for many building WSN applications, even with dozens of transmissions per hour.

In 2013, the global building WSN market-- including WSN systems, software and services-- will be $4 billion, up from $453 million in 2008.

ON World's report, "Wireless Sensor Networks for Smart Buildings" is based on 150 interviews with facility managers, IT directors, manufacturers, platform providers, and suppliers.
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About ON World:
ON World Inc. is the leader in Smart Technology research. Our market intelligence and information services are sold to Fortune 1000 companies, service providers, venture capitalists, and startups worldwide. Website:

Media Contact:
Mary E. Purvis
p: 858-259-2397
e: research(at)


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